Penguins minor league report: Rookie winger Zlobin shows offensive flair
WILKES-BARRE — After scoring his second goal of the season last week, Baby Pens rookie Anton Zlobin spun his stick in his hand, then slid it into an imaginary sheath on his hip as if he were brandishing a sword.
As the Russian winger develops as a pro, coach John Hynes doesn't want to beat that flair out of him. In fact, he encourages it.
“That's what his NHL talent is, his ability to score goals,” Hynes said. “That's why we drafted him.”
In other words, Zlobin is on the Beau Bennett track.
For most forwards coming into the AHL, the focus is on growing into well-rounded, responsible players. For a minority, like Bennett and Zlobin, the focus is on becoming consistent scorers who could play on the top two lines of an NHL team.
“He can play the system fine. He gets it,” Hynes said. “Now you can really concentrate on, when you're working with him, developing that offensive talent.”
Zlobin's talent was evident in his days in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had 40 goals one year and 91 points the next, getting chosen by the Penguins in the sixth round of the 2012 draft in between.
His start this season was slowed by offseason shoulder surgery, but he has managed two goals and five points in his first 15 AHL games.
At 5-foot-11, 198 pounds, he has neither great size nor exceptional speed. His game is built around skill and creativity.
“Where we've got to continue to grow him is how he can be more of an offensive threat,” Hynes said. “Moving his feet. Strength on the puck. He creates well off the rush. Now you've got to be able to create coming out of the corners or behind the net.”
The Baby Pens haven't scored much lately, netting a total of 20 goals in their past 10 games entering this weekend.
Winger Harry Zolnierczyk is the exception. He had five points in his first five games after being sent down Dec. 30.
If the Penguins need reinforcements up front, Zolnierczyk almost certainly would get the call.
Nine players who have appeared in the AHL this season were named to Olympic rosters last week, and the Baby Pens ran into one Wednesday night.
Syracuse Crunch goalie Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 24 shots in a 4-2 win over the Baby Pens, surrendering only two goals to defenseman Philip Samuelsson.
A Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Gudlevskis is expected to start in net for Latvia in Sochi, Russia. The Baby Pens are 0-1-1 against him this season and 4-0 against Syracuse's other goaltenders.
With three goals in two games at New Hampshire last weekend, Nebraska-Omaha forward Josh Archibald, a 2011 sixth-round Penguins draft pick, moved into a tie for third in the country with 14 goals this season.
“People are going to love him,” development coach Bill Guerin said. “He's really exciting to watch just because of the pace he can play.”
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.